Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem inspires wildlife students

Eighteen TWS students, along with their professional instructors, were determined not to let the pandemic derail another potentially life-changing event. The crew of 24 landed in Salt Lake City in late July, traveled north by van and spent the better part of eight days exploring the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as part of the Student Wildlands Adventure Program, or SWAP.

Hailing from eight different colleges and universities from across the Southeast and Southwest, the students were instructed on field trips by personnel from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Idaho Department of Fish and Game and multiple university and college staff. Given the vast and wild landscapes of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, North America’s most notable predators were the focus of their weeklong studies.

Students were treated to in-the-field discussions on wolverines (Gulo gulo), moose (Alces alces), elk (Cervus canadensis), pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and other sensitive species. But the highlights of their week were undoubtedly their hike to a recently used grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) den in the Tetons and the opportunity to view a pack of gray wolves (Canis lupus) in Yellowstone National Park. The event culminated with a trail ride through Harriman State Park, west of Yellowstone.

Students Dorian Miranda, of New Mexico Highlands University, and Michael Darity, of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, listen and watch as wildlife professor Robert Brewer sits in the background. Credit: Courtesy Daryl Ratajczak

“SWAP has been an amazing experience,” said Jamie Martin, a wildlife student from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico, who attended the trip. “Being surrounded by fellow students, instructors and biologists that have a passion in wildlife and fisheries not only gives us encouragement to stay in this field, but also creates a space where we can share our interests and feel like we belong.”

The Student Wildlands Adventure Program is a nonprofit organization developed by Certified Wildlife Biologists Daryl Ratajczak and Robert Brewer. The goal of the program is to provide students from underserved communities with an opportunity to see and explore extraordinary landscapes and rarely seen wildlife in hopes of inspiring them to continue their studies in natural resource management. To learn more about the wildlife student program visit

Header Image: The 2021 SWAP crew visit a grizzly bear den. National Park Service biologist Tyler Brasington led the once-in-a-lifetime excursion. Credit: Courtesy Daryl Ratajczak